Breaking Pastors (part three)

I have it on good authority that these are ‘depressing posts’.

I’m not feeling depressed and I’m not trying to make anyone feel down. When I read the statistic last week that 1500 pastor/priest/minister types leave their jobs every single month it got me started thinking about the pathology behind a number like that.

If anyone reading is a great researcher I’d be curious to know how that compares to other professions.

One that might be close would be in the field of law enforcement. I was talking to a friend yesterday who was telling me about his own profession and the startlingly larger number of people in law enforcement who don’t make it to retirement. A variety of issues: burnout, family/marriage breakdown, suicide, mental illness, physical illness – that cut short the careers of men and women in police work.

Some of the reasons, the pathology, behind the problem sound incredibly similar to the things that are breaking pastors.


Their work sets them apart. I’ve got a friend who did police work for a long time. He said there were some pretty awkward moments at church and at work when he’d show up to a domestic dispute on Saturday at the home of someone he’d see the next morning at worship. It’s common for pastors to have given counsel to couples going through rough times, families struggling with some issues only to find that when the crisis was over they didn’t really want to see that pastor on Sunday’s anymore. TMI – too much information and even if you’re not a judgmental person people will often feel judged.

Try this. Next time you’re in a normal conversation with someone you just met and it turns to what you do for a living, tell them you’re a pastor/minister/priest. Watch the brain freeze as they quickly replay for themselves the entire conversation you’ve just had to figure out if they’ve said anything to you that will send them to hell or they need to apologize for. As pastors we tend to get lumped together so whatever the view the person you’re talking to has of clergy types – pedophiles, judgmental, boring, dumb, super holy, non-human – will now transform your conversation. My favourite response and the one that seems most common after I tell people what I do is, “That must be…um…rewarding.” Have you ever said that to anyone in any other profession? What does that mean?

A lot of pastor types were told, like I was in Bible College, not to become friends with people in your church. There were reasons given, none good, and a generation went forth and became isolated. This was horrible advice and so far from biblical that it’s almost crazy talk. But still, a lot of clergy types who move in and are told by board members, “I was here before you came and I’ll still be here and on the board long after you’ve gone…” find it really difficult to build honest, safe friendships within the church.

Another thing my friend from law enforcement said was that part of their job involves being around a certain type of person and in certain types of situations all day, every day. Basically, rather than seeing people at their best, they see people at their worst. A lot.

Hurtful people.

People are people, I know. But it really sucks when you get hit by friendly fire. Someone, probably a pastor, once said that the Church is the only army that shoots its’ wounded. I’ve been astonished, am astonished, at the number of people who find themselves in the Church, priests, pastors, super apostles, who step on, roll over, devalue, ignore and otherwise abuse the people around them. And I’ve listened to the stories of countless friends who got caught by a bunch of sheep who kicked the crap out of them or their spouse or their kids or all the above.

My wife, the elusive Donna, was once cornered by some ladies who “felt led” to give her some parenting tips when we only had one child. They caught her when I was not around and that’s the only reason I’m not in prison now. Their “loving talk” left her bruised and bleeding.

I’ve never had a person of another faith or no faith at all who has said to me the kind of hurtful, hateful things that other believers have. I’ve never had a pagan tell me I’m corrupting the youth of our province (which really would take some doing) but I’ve had church people tell me that. Does that mean that Jesus isn’t real or the Holy Spirit isn’t really at work? No. No it doesn’t. It just means that we get stressed out when broken people use His name in vain and hurt other people.

I think all over North America pastors are getting broken because of the unhealthy system we’ve created. We’ve come to call things “normal” that you’d never call “normal” in any other situation of life but especially not one that holds “Love” as the greatest command/rule/precept.

Hurting people hurt people but why aren’t the sons and daughters of God being healed by the great Physician and becoming the peacemakers and lovers the Spirit transforms us to be? Is this a “wheat and tares” kind of deal where we’ll always have a mix in the church? Do you think I’m exaggerating or overstating? Is my record stuck on “whine”?

(Today’s post compels me to ad this note – I’ve never felt more loved, more supported and more friendship than I do right here, right now. I really love being a part of the friends/church that I’m a part of. There are still issues because we’re all human but this is the closest to the real deal that I’ve ever been.)

…to be continued…


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, denial, God, Leadership, Meaning, ministry, pastor, Reflective, religion, stress, theology, truth. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Breaking Pastors (part three)

  1. Michelle says:

    I know it’s not an uncommon term but I just typed out, “the great Physician” a few moments ago in a piece I’m working on.

    As for your thoughts, I think we’re all just a bunch of Bozos on the bus -some people just don’t know that yet. I’m often reminded of Animal Farm: “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS!” That totally reminds me of the mindset found among a lot of Christians. Pastors make easy targets because they are supposed to represent something and they are often expected to embody the ideals of the congregation. Good luck with that.

  2. We often become the self righteous “closet” pharisees of today. Obese and gluttonous preachers condemning the wine bibbers. We trash the people that do what we would never do, but ignore the very darkness in ourselves…. Truth is, In the Kingdom there is no rules, because God has written them upon our hearts and minds. When we live by His Spirit, we would never hurt people the way we do, we would live in Love, Compassion, Forgiveness, Truth, Faithfulness, Mercy, and all the fruits of the Spirit. When we live as humans “as God intends” we do not do such things…. We will not be perfect but we need to seriously assess what the heck we are doing to others in our words and in our deeds. We are called to love, we are called to do good, we are called to die to self, we are called to prefer others, ALWAYS! If you are not living that way than come to Christ. If you say you are a Christian and not living that way, come to the Real Jesus and He will comfort you, and set you on the path that leads to righteousness… I am not longer a Christian. I have left that religion long ago, because it is ugly and does not represent Jesus, who is more than, greater than, anything that religion has to offer… But I am a Christ follower, not perfect, but a Christ follower and I seek His Kingdom and His nature, every waking moment of my life. I will not be duped by the bug called religion again.. It scorns, it minimizes, it excludes, and it kills!
    I am going to bring love and life to the world so help me God! Just saying ……..

  3. Nathan Rousu says:

    Isolation coupled with stress is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. I can easily identify new people who will not last shortly after they introduce themselves. And one of the key indicators is relational isolation. We need each other for strength, resource, accountability, and certainly not the least of all loving community. We’re created for community and to violate that basic need throws us into destructive dysfunction.

    Reading your stories I’d echo some of your questions. Why is it that we see this kind of behavior among believers? – especially behavior we don’t even commonly see among unbelievers? What kind of system have we created that produces such awful behavior?

    I do think that there is a ‘systemic’ problem. I’m not going to blame “institutionalism,” however. I think the problem is more how a theology taints our practice. We’re teaching and believing something that is producing a harmful result. This subject is huge and without going into a giant discourse, I believe one of the main problems could be summarized that we’ve been taught and practicing religion rather than having become disciples of Jesus who are intimately connected to Him.

  4. Neil Gillis says:

    I loved making roaring fires for cooking and sings when I was at camp as a kid and I noticed one tiny fact: when a red hot coal would roll out of the fire and exist on the edge, then, it would be red hot and throw out much heat and some flame, but, over time, it would lose its’ redness and heat, grow cold and ultimately become black and useless. Lesson learned: isolation causes lack of passion and eventual death.

    As a preachers kid, growing up, I noticed the same thing in my dad and myself. Isolation combined with religion, totally kills.

    I hate religion. Jesus did too. The smarmy elite loudly proclaiming to the great unwashed and unsaved that they have a total lock on how to please God and earn your eternal reward. That they alone have the means and methods needed to claim eternal life. That if you abide by their self proclaimed rules and regulations, that if you dress like them, talk like them, have the same attitude as them, you are a shoo in the get what you want with the big guy.

    No one seems to recall that Jesus said that HE was the way. Nothing else, as Mike Warnke would say, Jus’ Jesus.

    So if I turned my moment by moment existence over to Jesus, believing that each situation that came my way had to pass through His “love” filter, and that instead of praying for God to take away my problems and rocky situations, to thank Him for them instead as methods and vehicles to increase my patience, love, long-suffering and ultimate reliance on Him alone…well, then I could walk tall down any street with my cutoffs, muscle shirt, long hair, bandana, tattoos, flip flops, lip piercings, acid rock coming from my iPod and weed hanging out my back pocket knowing that I was accepted in the Beloved and on the road to the Marriage supper of the Lamb.

    Sound radical. Tough. Jesus was too…

  5. Don Rousu says:

    Ponder this ministry from James 1:21, ” . . . receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” This is not about “saving souls” in the way that most people think about it. This word is spoken to people who already know the Lord and are filled with the Holy Spirit. To receive the word with meekness means to take it into oneself with the intent to obey. And in this context, the Greek word for “save “would better be translated “heal”. When we abide in the word, take up residence in the word, incorporate the word into our daily living, it really does have the capacity to heal our minds, our emotions, our will, and anything else that might constitute the soul of man.

    Where I going with this? It seems to me that this whole conversation is about a sick church, which is a body made up of sick members. Although Peter Scazerro’s book, “The Emotional Healthy Church,” is not the greatest book I’ve ever read, it has a profound message. Essentially, he says that we need to major in bringing health, healing, wholeness, “salvation”, if you will, to the local church before it can ever be an instrument of health, healing, wholeness, “salvation” to the world.

    For the past 30 years, that’s what we have attempted to do. We’ve been pastoring for 42 years! — it took awhile to catch on, but we got serious when we realized our very survival depended on it! That doesn’t mean that everyone in the church is perfectly well mentally and emotionally — I think the bibical word would be “mature” — but at least there is little confusion about who is mature and who is immature, who is “spiritual” and who is carnal. Consequently, there is patience and understanding for those who are “in process”, but they don’t run the show. Rather, the leadership falls to those who are obviously mature in wisdom , faith, sacrifice, gentleness, patience, and love.

  6. Judy says:

    Merlin Carothers (of “Prison to Praise” fame) once asked God why so many of His people were not healed when they prayed for healing. God’s answer astounded him.

    “My people are not healed because they ask to be healed of the wrong thing. They ask to be healed of the things that are hurting them. Instead they need to ask to be healed of the things IN THEM that are hurting others.”

    The “me” culture that we live in is so very pervasive. We’re inundated with it: television, radio, media, Internet … we’re bombarded with the message that we need to Look Out For Number One … and that It’s All About Me.

    As a result, there is a spirit of entitlement that has hit the church, specifically the western church, big time. With rare exceptions, church has become a spectator sport and the spectators have the right to get together and hire and fire those who they consider to be the (only) players on the team. “Entertain me. If not, you’re out on your ear.” The presence of God is not what these folks want. His power is not welcome. They’re too busy building their little empires.

    I’ve maintained for many years that isolation is a killer. Even more so in ministry, and for that matter, in police work. I used to work in an area that had access to certain information from the files of police officers. I had to read through them to get some innocuous information my company needed, and I never knew where I was going to find this information, so I had to read all of it. The things I read were appalling. A good 25% of these files detailed how these once-proud cops would (to use but one example of many) send the family out on the town or to the movies one night and when they returned, they’d find his body in the bathtub. He’d used his service revolver.

    I wonder how many dedicated and sincere pastors have committed (if not physical) spiritual (or marital, or familial) suicide over the years. Being treated like slaves instead of honoured servants of Christ, working day in and day out only to be criticized at every turn with absolutely NO encouragement and laughable financial support, no job security at all (and no pension plan), not to mention the loneliness that eats like a cancer in the soul. Nowhere to turn, nobody to care, everyone wanting another piece of them. Everyone bowing down to the great god “ID.” ( The id is best described by a line from the movie “Hook” – “Me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, now, now, NOW…” )

    OUCH. The truth DOES hurt.

    Is there hope? I think so. There are pockets of believers, even the odd church here and there, who aren’t like that at all. Usually they realize just how good they have it and they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure it stays that way. They understand that growth happens in community, that the Golden Rule still applies, and that of all people, pastors and leaders need and deserve (because of their office) the respect and support of those they lead. Most of all, they do whatever they do at all times, for an “audience of One.”

    • brianmpei says:

      The stuff in us, eh? It’s not what goes into a man but what comes out… True words. I’m not sure it’s our status as “pastors” to be honoured as much as our relationship as brothers and sisters with one Father. I’m sure you’d agree.

      Our part of the world has us in a system of ME and, as I’ve been learning lately, it’s been so long we just think it’s normal.

      And I think I’m enjoying the fellowship of a church family that embraces the reality of being and island full of misfit toys that are still deeply loved by the Toymaker and precious to each other.

      Most days.

      • Judy says:

        I too enjoy such a fellowship. And it may or may not be made up of some of the members of the church where I fellowship. Some of the people I hang out with wouldn’t darken a church door. But I feel safe with them because they’re … real. They don’t judge.

        Yes, I do agree that pastors need to be honoured as brothers and sisters first. We are all one in Christ. But I also think that we are called as believers to submit to those who are in authority over us. It’s not a “he’s better than the rest of us” thing, but a “God has delegated a leadership role to him, so let’s get behind him and not try to sabotage him” thing. I also think that those who are taught should communicate to those who teach … in all good things. (Where is that these days?) That means that if a pastor touches your heart by something he says, don’t say it to the greeter at the door as you go out. Go to him. Or write him an email. Or send him a card.

        There is a growing disrespect that moves as an undercurrent in a lot of churches: you touched on that earlier when you commented on the pastor who was looked down upon by his board members who made on average three times his salary – I think it was part one of this topic. That sort of behavior is definitely not Christ-like. It comes from the same kind of arrogance the Pharisees had.

        I’m broken. Everyone is broken. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s alive and well and rampant in Christianity. It’s part and parcel of the “we vs. them” mentality that makes Christians fall prey to the idea that because we have Jesus we’re “better” than the unsaved. Even if (though Jesus has raised us from the dead) we haven’t done any spiritual growing in the last 30 years and are still all bound up in so many grave clothes we can barely move at all.

        He loves us way too much to let us stay there. I’m so glad that by His Spirit, He will do ANYthing to bring us to the place where we are willing to have those grave clothes removed.
        I feel another blog entry coming on… (grin)

  7. Michelle says:

    Your commenters leave the longest comments I’ve ever read on a blog!

  8. Phil says:

    If I wanted to be everyone’s friend and hero I would have become I firefighter. Pastoring is very much like policing, you just can’t be everyone’s friend, nor do you want to be. You can show everyone respect, but you got to do your job and let people know the reality of the situation there in. That’s how I read the New Testament, I don’t see Jesus being nice to the church people because he doesn’t want to offend them, and he tells them the truth. Unfortunately our modern image of church and pastors is of something and someone who is overly nice and kind and just loves everyone to death, and will go to extreme lengths to keep everyone happy. I think this is why so many call it quits because they just can’t operate like this. I wasn’t always happy with my parents but if they just tried to keep me happy the entire time and from being offended, I would be like a lot of church people, spoiled rotten cry babies. If we are family then acting like one means more yelling and hurt feelings, but also more forgiveness, love and grace.

    • brianmpei says:

      I wonder if the breakdown of family life is result or cause of some of our church dysfunction? Ultimately it’s all just human dysfunction and truthfully the church historically doesn’t have a great record of being functional but I wonder. Certainly our North American adoption of co-dependency as a primary value is part of stuff.

      Real relationship is the “as iron sharpens iron” picture from the Bible – that creates a lot of sparks!

    • Judy says:

      “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17
      I used to think that this Scripture meant that a brother was born to fight with. Sure was that way in our house. Family harmony? grace? mercy? Yeah, right. We usually treat abysmally the people we say that we love.

      Somewhere along the way we’ve gotten the idea that we can say whatever we @!?# well like because “he’s my brother / she’s my sister – they gotta love me.” Over time, that’s developed further into a “to hell with you, I’m gonna speak the truth in love, you rotten filthy so-and-so!” attitude. My mom (bless her, I can learn from her words) used to tell us, “You can catch more flies with honey than with salt.” (Sometimes it was vinegar.)

      Yes, sometimes we have to tell the truth. Yes, sometimes it will hurt – maybe most times it will hurt. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t take any thought for where the person is who hears it. That’s where the love part comes in. And if we’re listening to the One who IS Love, He’ll tell us not only what to say, but when and HOW to say it. If I constantly beat my kids over the head, they’ll learn very quickly to tune me out when I yell at them to stop doing something that is harmful to them. (Hey, I can’t count the number of times I’ve come away from a church service feeling abused by what came over the pulpit.)

      The only thing Jesus consistently condemned was religion. Religion is about fear – power – intimidation – manipulation – control. You don’t toe the line, you’re excommunicated – God’s not gonna like you, all sorts of bad things will happen and in the end, you’ll go to hell. So the Pharisees were Jesus’ favorite target. Yet when a Pharisee came to Him with honest questions…Jesus took the time to explain to him what He meant and where this fellow could find real life. And He did it in love.

      We already have the yelling and hurt feelings down pat. If we spend more time with Jesus, maybe He’ll grow our forgiveness, love, and grace.

      • brianmpei says:

        It IS fascinating how we so often, in North America, appear to have majored on the things Jesus never did and minored on the things that Jesus expressly commanded or described as a sign that would prove to the world that we were the real deal.

      • Phil says:

        If we constantly waited for God to “tell us not only what to say, but when and HOW to say it” some of us, if honest with ourselves, would be waiting for a very long time, because we don’t hear God like we would like to think we do. Others who listen to some of the voices in their head, would probably say the wrong thing at the wrong time, the wrong way. I’m not advocating to beat your kids over the head either, and I certiantly don’t believe in yelling or acting immature, or abusing people from the pulpit. I have just experienced church “grace” and “love”, which usually includes talking behind peoples backs, coming to some kind of judgement, then not saying anything in “grace” or “love”. The times I’ve grown most is when people love me enough to tell me the truth, most of the time I don’t always love the medium it comes through but, if willing to get over that, there is life lesson to be learned. I guess it would it be nice if grace and love always came to us in a nice way but I just don’t think that grace and love are always nice. Jesus, is often described as being love and grace, and rightfully so. His very birth resulted in the mass murder of children his age, that wasn’t very nice…

  9. Ted says:

    Hey Brian,
    This is a very interesting subject and one near to my heart, since at one point I was one of those 1500 guys a month. But that number made me curious so I did some researching and found this article that does a pretty good job breaking down the stats.
    Here is a quote that really caught my eye, but the bottom line is this – maybe some of the 1500 pastors quitting each month should never have been in the ministry in the first place, and the church is better off without them in leadership. Sounds harsh, but how many people leave other professions? And the ministry is more than a profession, it’s a calling.

    Quote from the linked article:

    “There was a poll taken by a sociologist named Jeffrey Haddan (“Prayer Net” Newsletter, Nov. 13, 1998) in which he polled over 7,400 Protestant ministers. He found that 13% to 51% of ministers, depending on their denomination, accepted Jesus’ physical resurrection as a fact. His poll states between 19% and 60% of ministers believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. The poll goes on to say between 67% and 95% of ministers believe that the Scriptures are true in faith, history, and practice. These statistics are extremely despairing. What do these ministers think they are doing? What is their purpose? And, what are they trying to accomplish in God’s Holy Church? If you are the church leadership and you do not believe in the tenets of Scripture, you have no business being in leadership and certainly no business being the Shepherd and teacher of the flock. What you are is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which will be harshly judged by God. “

  10. brianmpei says:

    Thanks Ted! Great article, depressing info.

    There’s no doubt that many start who were made to start something else or who were motivated by things they eventually realized weren’t enough or weren’t healthy.

    I know a few wolves but I have to be careful there because I also know people who would put my name under that heading as well!

    Part of this, for me, are the many people I know or know of who, in the last few months, have declared, “game over!” or at least “timeout!” They haven’t left faith, fallen into sin (well, no more than usual), or realized they’d been doing it for 25+ years for all the wrong reasons. It just seemed to be time.

    The other part is that I’ve been in conversations over the last year with some people who I think are called, gifted and deeply in love with Jesus, great with people but they’ve been chewed up and spit out by a system that only paused to reflect on what happened in order to yell, “Next!” and then start chewing all over again.

    Even wolves shouldn’t be treated the way brothers and sisters have treated some of my comrades.

  11. Ted says:

    Oh, I agree Brian. I wasn’t trying to down play the state of affairs in the church, nor the conditions pastors endure in the ministry. It’s a hard road, and I only recently decided to be a full time/vocational pastor again myself. But people are people no matter where you go, and sadly even in the church.

    My recent study of, and preaching through, the book of Colossians has reinforced to me just how important it is to keep Christ central and allow Him to invade every area of my life. I hope I effectively communicated that message and leave it up to the Spirit to convict people of their own behavior.

    Ultimately, I can only be responsible for myself; how I live and treat others, and how I respond to their treatment of me.

    • brianmpei says:

      You’re right Ted, it really is all about the centrality of Jesus. And all we can do is all we can do. Of course, that includes preaching and teaching that we believe will infect others that they would be gripped by that – or the One – that grips us!

      Blessings on your ministry there, I’m proud of the man you’ve become!

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